Aboriginal players now form eleven per cent of the player base in the Australian Football League (AFL), up from five per cent in 1995, almost five times the proportion of Aborigines in the total Australian population. In early 2012 there were a number of race related controversies prominent in news reporting on the AFL including a recruiter who questioned whether clubs are ‘comfortable’ recruiting Aboriginal players with two Aboriginal parents. The AFL condemned the comments and the club in question sacked the recruiter. More recently Jeff Kennett, former President of Hawthorn Football Club, former Premier of Victoria and Chair of Beyond Blue—a prominent Australian mental health organization, vehemently criticized the AFL for establishing a prayer room for Muslim players at the ‘home’ of AFL, the MCG. His view is that it is “political correctness gone mad” and that “communities should not have to change their “very fibre” to accommodate multiculturalism”. Using these incidents to ground this paper, and the notion of ‘cultural competence’, we explore some of the potential and limitations of the AFL to address the insidiousness of racism which is arguably embedded in aspects of Australian national identity. Theoretically we draw on Critical Race Theory and previous analysis of Australian Football and racism, based on the experience of the Rumbalara Football Netball Club in the Goulburn Valley—an Aboriginal club that has been a part of country football for 15 years. This analysis explores the intersection of Australian values of ‘egalitarianism’ and ‘sport’ with contemporary expressions of ‘whiteness’ and related racist constructions of Aborigines. Together they form a complex site for organizations like the AFL and its constituent clubs to ‘practice’ cultural competence amidst potentially competing priorities of marketing an extremely successful sport and the media coverage which that necessarily entails.
|Keywords:||Cultural Competence, Australian Identity, National Identity, Whiteness, Racism, Egalitarianism, Critical Race Theory|
Senior Fellow, Kaiela Institute, Rural Health Academic Centre, University of Melbourne, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia
Chair, Kaiela Institute, Shepparton, Victoria, Australia